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Achieving Profitability Through Maintenance Management

One of the distinctions between maintenance requirements in a capital-intensive process facility and those of other industries is the high cost of production equipment and the corresponding cost of maintaining that equipment over its lifecycle. This capital intensity demands a maintenance response like few others in manufacturing.

Adding to this uniqueness is the fact that as a process industry, failure in one part of the operation invariably leads to lost production opportunities in the subsequent processes. In this complex environment, the foremost problem is that of controlling the unexpected and unnecessary loss of production due to equipment failures.

Maintenance management has always struggled with balancing the workforce with the workload along with a limited supply of resources, and many experiments in maintenance organization have been attempted over the years to resolve this conflict of workload. This is especially true during the past 20 years.

In years past, maintenance was performed by workers directed by a master mechanic or master electrician. These masters of knowledge and skills invariably became the repositories of information relative to the equipment. Their typical strategy was quick, expeditious response to failures.

Those days are finished and maintenance management now requires different skills than in the past. High-performance work teams are replacing the traditional management/worker hierarchy. Today’s maintenance workforce is being sectioned and quartered and more locations are empowering teams of workers who collectively determine allocation of resources for routine maintenance needs. Maintenance workers are being empowered to make the decisions necessary to perform the tasks at hand.

Additionally, experienced maintenance managers, following the trend of other managers, are changing job locations as fast as pages ripped from a calendar. The “flavor of the month” program is common.

Actions Needed to Achieve Profitability with Proactive Maintenance

Today’s maintenance organizations varying from no organization to specific personnel dedicated to a business unit, silo or stream. However, the different maintenance approaches share a common goal: to contribute to the profitability of the operation.

That can be achieved by improving operational effectiveness (make the place run better), improving resource efficiencies (reduce costs) and maintaining the value of the assets (preserve the facilities).

Years ago, an organization model was created and piloted to deal with varying workloads.1 The fundamental intent of that effort was to turn the existing maintenance workforce from being one of reaction to failures to being more proactive, thus improving the operating capacity. A major secondary goal was long-term cost reduction.

However, taking a workforce accustomed to reacting to failures and turning it into a proactive one is not easy, nor is it painless. A structural change is required.

Action one: Provide a highly-skilled, dedicated reaction force.

Dividing existing maintenance resources among the operating units is one method widely used today to provide a responsive workforce. The benefit of this organization is a sense of control by the area unit management and some ownership of defined assets by the reassigned workers. Generally, however, this creates a weakened overall maintenance response, deterioration of essential skills, poor planning and execution of shutdowns and increased use of costly outsource resources.

In my opinion, a more prudent action is the establishment of “swat teams” for each of the operating units.

These teams are directed by the operating unit management. Their primary objective is response to urgent workload. Selection of the right type of personnel for these teams is crucial to success: one particularly important trait is having logical thoughtfulness under pressure.

The team is purposely kept smaller than demand, because the overall objective is to eliminate the need for reactive work. The widely-accepted benchmark for this type work is 15 to 20% of overall workload staff hours.

Action two: Provide a skilled, dedicated, well-managed corrective maintenance force.

The desired force is a collection of varied and flexible skilled workers to follow well-planned task assignments on known schedules, working together to correct known problems under non-hurried conditions.

This team is not burdened with routine, often urgent, reactive work requests. They follow the schedule produced by the weekly negotiation among business unit managers for the limited resources and the needs of the preventive maintenance program. Their work is well planned; therefore, their efforts are very efficient, improving the overall effectiveness of the total maintenance effort.

This group is large by design. Ultimately, most work performed by the asset care workforce is planned and scheduled, eliminating the need for emergency work assignments that disrupt most organizations.

Action three: Provide a skilled, dedicated preventive maintenance force.

One of the failings of dividing maintenance resources among business units is refocusing reassigned teams. Too often, the focus becomes response to urgent work, and when urgent work is not present, the tasks performed to fill in time are done so inefficiently.

Preventive maintenance is abandoned. Predictive maintenance, a subset of preventive maintenance, becomes someone else’s responsibility. Preventive maintenance workers, such as lubrication personnel, inspectors and diagnostic technicians, become extensions of the urgent workforce and slowly their essential goal, preventing failures, is neglected.

Ideally, a core group of dedicated preventive maintenance personnel performs most of its work while the equipment is running, thus limiting the physical size of the group. Only so much work can be performed on operating equipment. Portions of the preventive maintenance routines, such as cleaning, alignment, balancing, tightening, modifications, etc., are performed during equipment outages by the corrective maintenance force, under planned and scheduled conditions.

Action four: Provide timely, accurate information.

In the past, good information systems, paper-based with indexed folder archives were sufficient. Now, robust, highly functional electronic information systems for use by what is now a knowledge worker (the former maintenance mechanic) facilitates the efficiency improvements expected of the redesign.

Improved planning, materials control, accurate, timely data, equipment performances, skills inventories and scheduling of work are integrated. This allows the empowered employee in a high-performance work environment to make better decisions about the task at hand. Timely information placed in the hands of capable troubleshooters and decision-makers is a dynamic of continuous improvement.

Create the Vision, Communicate the Vision, Live the Vision

The tools necessary to create a proactive asset care management workforce already exist. No new, untested technology is required, nor is the methodology untried or unproven. The first step is to create the vision, followed by intensive and extensive communication of the vision to all the parties involved. Creating job descriptions of every role in a redesigned organization is also imperative to support any changes.

Summary

Poor maintenance is deadly to the workforce and to the enterprise; good asset care management is a profit generator. The profits will come through improved productivity and quality, with corresponding cost reductions due to improving effectiveness and the efficiencies of resources.

Redesign based on proven, fundamental philosophies and available technologies can provide the capital intensive, asset-based business enterprise with a competitive advantage. Simple concepts—well communicated and properly executed—bring extraordinary results.


John Yolton is principal at FOG Group.

1 Holistic Approach to Maintenance Boosts Efficiency, Cuts Downtime. Pulp & Paper, March 1990

This article originally appeared as a post on LinkedIn.  

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